Talking Science With Arianna Huffington

Jan 13, 2012
Originally published on January 13, 2012 3:59 pm

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Next up: A bit of good news for those of you lamenting the loss of your newspaper science section. The Huffington Post has a new section dedicated to science, also find a lot of technology there. Editors of the news site describe it as one-stop shopping for the latest in scientific news and opinion, with an aim to entertain as well as inform.

The Huffington Post has a sizeable audience, and I mean over 1 billion page views per month. And the Huffington Post readers are the first to tell you that its appeal lies in its chatty and interactive style. So how does that style translate when you're covering science stories? How do you vet the science and blog posts written by unpaid contributors?

Arianna Huffington is the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, also a nationally syndicated columnist, author of 13 books. I'm stumbling over myself because she needs no introduction. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Arianna.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Thanking you - thank you for taking time to be with us. Why is this the right time to launch Huff Post science?

HUFFINGTON: Well, it's the right time because we seem to be, at the moment, confronting a kind of explosion of truly medieval thinking in our world, like questioning evolution, questioning global warming, questioning a lot of thought - a lot of things that we thought we could finally take for granted.

And we feel that we have an opportunity to explore everything, from the big issues of our time, like the universe, to physical and chemical and other scientific discoveries, all the way down to the sense of wonder that the universe elicits, and to also end some false divisions, like we don't see that there is a division between spirituality and science.

And in our first week, we actually had posts from different scientists who are very comfortable with religion, like Brown biology Professor Kenneth Miller, who has written that Darwin is not an obstacle to faith but is a key to understanding our relationship with God. And that has been a preoccupation of mine for many years. And so it's really a great opportunity now to reach a wider audience and have them also use the platform to explore all these questions.

FLATOW: Do you find it odd that science has become so politicized in our country?

HUFFINGTON: I do, actually, because I feel, in a way, that we in the media have partly some responsibility to play because we - instead of seeing our role as ferreting out the truth, we sometimes see our role as simply mediating a debate: on the one hand, Senator Inhofe, who thinks global warming is a hoax; on the other hand, someone discussing the dangers of global warming. And I think that has brought about a certain atmosphere where you can imagine everything being questioned. Maybe we'll have a debate as to whether the Earth is flat. And we do have a completely open debate about things while the jury is still out, but at the same time acknowledge that certain things have been settled by science.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Speaking of debate, I'm glad you brought it up because we are in the debate and campaigning season. Why isn't science ever mentioned in these debates, in these campaign issues? Why aren't we asking the candidates more questions about where they stand on issues like climate change and evolution? And I'm thinking, particularly back in December of 2007, at the Republican debate in Iowa where the candidates refused to show their hands if they believed climate change. Do you remember that?

HUFFINGTON: I know and evolution, I remember that.

FLATOW: Yeah.

HUFFINGTON: That was an amazing moment when they obviously considered that being - that recognizing evolution as a fact would be detrimental to their electoral chances. But that's why I feel it's an important moment to say it's great to debate everything. But also, it's very central to our democracy to establish where the facts lie and to revere facts because as someone said, you know, everybody has a right to their opinion but not to their own set of facts.

FLATOW: Shouldn't we demand from our candidates that they have some, at least, grounding in basic science? And shouldn't we ask them - as much as you want to see their birth certificate, or you want to see their taxes from the, you know, 2011, shouldn't we be asking them how old do you think the Earth is, questions like that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUFFINGTON: That would be great, actually. I think we should ask our leaders and your listeners that question. What would you include in that questionnaire? What kind of questions would go along with how old do you think the Earth is? It would be a great questionnaire, you know, to send to campaigns.

FLATOW: Yeah.

HUFFINGTON: You know how campaigns have to answer all sorts of questionnaires, from Planned Parenthood to The Family Coalition. So how about also answering questions from a coalition of citizens who care about science?

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, when we get down if we get down to two candidates for the presidential election...

HUFFINGTON: Let's do it. Let's...

FLATOW: Let's do it. Let's...

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. Let's combine forces, you and the new baby that I have for science section.

FLATOW: I'm ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: We'll supply some questions.

HUFFINGTON: OK. I'll help you do it.

FLATOW: OK. We'll supply some questions. Talking with Arianna Huffington on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. Let's talk about your blog post for a second. There is a mechanism for editorial oversight, correct?

HUFFINGTON: Yes.

FLATOW: You have people, legitimate science writers on that staff.

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. And we also have, as you may have seen, a new feature that we call Talk Nerdy to Me. Cara Santa Maria, who is - has a PhD in science, and her job is to take different issues and to try to make them very understandable and also kind of introduce some humor to them because part of what we want to do is to expand the numbers of people who care about science and who want to learn about science and issues attached on our lives every day that have a scientific grounding.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. You call - you touched on it just briefly, that the intersection of science and religion is one of your passions. And you were saying, and we've had other scientists on SCIENCE FRIDAY, who say there really doesn't have to be the divide there. I can believe in my religion and still believe in science at the same time.

HUFFINGTON: Exactly. And there is a book which actually I have in front of me - I'm sure you know it - by Arthur Koestler called "The Act of Creation," which is a beautiful accounting of many scientists' own writings about their discoveries, and how they use dreams, intuition and a lot of non-factual and scientific avenues to get to their discoveries and then, of course, have to prove everything with all the means at their disposal.

I remember also Einstein's breakthrough equation, you know, E=MC2. And for me, that equation is like - is an assurance that nothing in the universe is unrelated to anything else, and then it has - the way that it had an emotional impact on him, not just an intellectual impact.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And there is the religious aspect, and then there's the political aspect, and then there is the - I'm not sure where this originated. I'm thinking of global warming or green technologies and why this kind of stuff has to be political. Why do issues about the environment become political? You know, the environment was - the EPA was created by Richard Nixon back in the early '70s. When did this all become...

HUFFINGTON: Yes. I mean, it's hard to imagine Richard Nixon winning the Republican nomination at the moment, because remember, he also wanted a lot of things done to the economy that many would disapprove of today in the Republican Party. But I think beyond that there's so many powerful economic interests here at work, whether it's the oil industry or the chemical industry. And that's why it's very important to make sure that facts prevail, and that we don't let, you know, special interests even determine what to consider scientific truth or not.

FLATOW: Well, I want to wish you good luck in - on your Huffington Post site and bringing science and technology to more people there.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you so much.

FLATOW: You need to be congratulated. We'll see you - maybe we'll have some SCIENCE FRIDAY stuff up there that we can recommend questions to be asked of the candidates.

HUFFINGTON: Oh, we - definitely, let's do that.

FLATOW: All right. Arianna, thank you for taking time to be with us today.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

FLATOW: Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group. And, of course, you know her website on the Web. We - before we go, we want to thank all of you who submitted photos to our winter nature photo contest. We're going to have the results published on our website. You can check our Facebook page, scifri, for an update, or see all the beautiful photos we have there. We still have them up there. We were in the final process of judging them. And there will be a link up there to see which photos of one which - we have a few staff picks that we thought were outstanding.

But we have hundreds and hundreds of them, and our senior producer Annette Heist had the wonderful job of looking through all of them and getting it up there on our website. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.